As parents, we all want what's best for our children. But how to give them "what'sbest" is not always clear. In today's interconnected global world, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to prepare them to thrive in the new world marketplace. But what does that entail? Well, we must inspire our children to be curious about the world and to become globally aware. We must teach our children to appreciate, communicate and interact with people across different cultures and in other countries -- and that includes learning a second language as early as possible and studying abroad if feasible. As our children become adults, going off to college or into the workforce, we must help them apply these skills so they can become the global workers that organizations demand whether they're in business, manufacturing, engineering, government or education.
But how do we do it?
It's not very difficult, it doesn't have to take much time, and it doesn't have to cost much money. But it does require a shift in thinking. When I first began talking about raising global children with friends and colleagues seven or eight years ago, the intention was not to write a book. Conversations flowed as any parent's would in discussing aspects of raising children with a strong focus on helping them grow up ready for a global world -- especially the global business world that I have lived in for many years. I have written three books on the intersection of globalization and careers -- a natural for me -- but for parents? There was little on this topic in the marketplace -- and few resources to turn to except other globally-aware parents. But not everyone knows where to begin. Here's a great place for parents to start.
1. Understand what a global mindset is and why it's important, and commit to helping your kids develop it.
I talk about global mindsets in every media interview I do, every speech I give and in most articles I write. A "global mindset" is defined as the ability to work successfully across cultures. At the most basic level, having a global mindset means having the skills that are proven to work cross-culturally. The reason they're important? As 21st century global workers, our children will need cultural sensitivity; the ability to interpret diverse situations, information and facts while being an empathetic team player; and a passion and curiosity that enables them to enjoy the cultural diversity we share. Adults are not as adept at learning these skills as children, so starting young is key.
2. Encourage the development of soft skills critical to cross-cultural competence.
Global awareness is not just a knowledge of geography, speaking another language and having traveled the world. It begins with the basics -- things EVERY parent can teach a child. Skills such as patience and the ability to wait and watch before rushing to conclusions or decisions have clear links to global success, and are among top skills identified by many researchers as being crucial to a global mindset. Of all the traits assessed in my surveys for all four books, curiosity and the ability to question things stand out as the most common -- and probably the most important -- attributes needed for developing a global mindset. This makes intuitive sense: a child has to be curious and interested in the world before being motivated to learn about it. The ability to carefully listen and observe is essential for learning new information, as well as being able to understand and relate to people around you. Having these skills leads to empathy and flexibility, two more critical soft skills identified as important to a global mindset. Encouraging independence and calculated risk-taking by balancing reasonable concern for safety helps children learn to make mistakes and learn from them. We must avoid the overprotection trap so as to inspire them to explore the world -- not be afraid of it.
3. Provide a solid grounding in your home culture.
In order for children to be comfortable in the world, they must feel comfortable at home -- have a solid foundation from which to explore the world. The sense of "home" develops early in ways that are remarkably similar in all the places the world's children call home. Understanding this process is important because it offers a rational explanation of how and when to teach children about the larger world. It's important to note that part of this basic cognitive and psychosocial development is a well-studied process of growing awareness that proceeds outward gradually from child to immediate family, then to extended family and community, on to nation and eventually to the entire world. Having a strong grounding in one's home culture also enables the interpretation of another culture in comparison to one's own.
4. Make learning a second language a priority.
Learning a language is more than just communicating. It helps us learn about another culture and enables us to cross cultural bounds more easily by appreciating and understanding difference. It also enhances cognitive abilities. Research has proven that it makes one "smarter" and enhances math, science and even English language abilities. It can also help people get jobs and can fast-track careers. But it takes time to learn another language; it doesn't happen in a few years in high school or college. Make it a top priority and help your children learn a language at school or at home through online tools and books and to support and advocate for language programs in school, beginning as early as kindergarten.
5. Take advantage of the vast resources at your local library to bring the world into your home.
So many people think that raising global children is for rich kids. I say it's for all kids. Yes, there are some things that cost money and can be harder to do, but the library is a treasure trove of books, maps, music, movies, magazines and helpful librarians. And it's free. Libraries are a valuable resource for families looking for ways to bring the world into their home.
6. Have fun with global food, music, books, art, museum exhibits and friends.
Cultural exposure doesn't happen in a vacuum. It needs to be incorporated into an individual's lifestyle, mindset and belief system. Make exposing your children to other cultures an aspect of everyday life. The rich excitement of new cultures, the smells and tastes of foods, the colors and drama of art, the shapes of stories, and rhythms of music engage children's senses. And those fulfilling sensual encounters teach children that the new and different can be wonderful, rather than scary and strange. In turn, such happy experiences build curiosity and appetite for other cross-cultural experiences and adventures, the cumulative effect of which is that the child is eventually able to function fearlessly as a global adult. In fact, "expose children to other cultures through music, visual arts, dance, film, books/literature, museum exhibits" was ranked the number one factor in developing a global mindset in children by the Raising Global Children survey respondents.
7. Host an exchange student in your home.
Opening up your home to a foreign student is one of the best and most cost efficient ways to learn about another culture. Student exchange programs identify and pair teenagers from around the world with host families so that they can get a taste of what daily life is like in the U.S. Hosting an exchange student -- or a teacher -- can bring the world into your home without costing much at all.
8. Travel with your children as a fun yet educational way to broaden their minds.
Given the great cultural diversity that can be found here in the U.S., it's not absolutely necessary to leave the U.S. to have an authentic global experience. When you travel with children, they are out there observing and experiencing things first hand. It's as much about the journey as it is the destination. If you do go abroad, children will see that the world is made up of many different people, speaking many different languages, practicing many different religions and doing common, everyday things -- such as eating, working, socializing -- in many different ways. It's not just about visiting a site to say you've been there. The benefits include appreciation for other cultures and customs, countering or preventing prejudices, boosting self-awareness and self-esteem, learning that different isn't bad and possibly even being inspired to learn another language.
9. Encourage your child to study, work and/or do an internship abroad at some point in his or her academic career.
One of the most important skills a student gains from studying abroad is cross-cultural aptitude, the ability to appreciate different cultures and solve problems while operating in a different environment. Employers increasingly seek workers who have both cross-cultural skills and cutting-edge technical skills, but it can be difficult for recent graduates to get international experience. Encourage your child to study, work and/or do an internship abroad at some point in his or her academic career. This could include exchange programs while in secondary school, mission trips, a gap year or an official study abroad in college.
10. Advocate for increasing global awareness/education and foreign language learning in your child's school.
Parents should not have to do it alone. You can insist upon more cultural education in our school systems so that our children understand and are better prepared to deal with the complexities outside our borders in whatever career they choose. You can insist upon foreign language learning in our schools by kindergarten in order to give our kids a fighting chance to become proficient in at least one other language. You must support our teachers who embrace the importance of global education.
Global parenting is a mindset; it can take place anywhere and under any circumstances. By taking a proactive role in enhancing your child's global awareness, you can teach your child to understand and deal with the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Plus it's fun!
Do you have some examples to share of how you bring the world into your home?
Stacie Nevadomski Berdan is the coauthor, most recently, of Raising Global Children: Ways Parents Can Help Our Children Grow Up Ready to Succeed in a Multicultural Global Economy (ACTFL, November 2013). Follow the discussion on Facebook and www.stacieberdan.com.